Yearender 2017 | Political patronage, risking people’s health

“Instead of seeking monetary award for damages, given the possible long-term effects of the vaccine, petitioner-children and their mothers pray for the rendition of free and long-term medical services and treatment from the government.”

By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
Bulatlat.com

MANILA — The Filipino people was stunned with the admission of Sanofi Pasteur that the vaccine against dengue called Dengvaxia had a different effect on children who have not yet contracted the disease.

In its statement released on Nov. 29, 2017, Sanofi said, “The analysis confirmed that Dengvaxia provides persistent protective benefit against dengue fever in those who had prior infection. For those not previously infected by dengue virus, however, the analysis found that in the longer term, more cases of severe disease could occur following vaccination upon a subsequent dengue infection.”

At least 800,000 children nine years old and above were immunized of Dengvaxia. The massive vaccination was done to students of public schools.
The word “severe” alone is already alarming to parents who allowed their children to be vaccinated of Dengvaxia despite the Department of Health’s statement that only 10 percent or 80,000 of those who were vaccinated will be “at risk of severe dengue.”

The Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) criticized the implementation of the mass vaccination as based on “political considerations” due to the fact that the May 2016 presidential election was approaching then. Then President Benigno Aquino’s government had started the school-based dengue immunization program on April 4, 2016.

The standard bearer of Aquino’s political party the Liberal Party was Mar Roxas whose campaign slogan then was “Ituloy ang Daang Matuwid” (Continue the straight path).

Also during the Senate hearing, former Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial stated her reasons why she opposed the immunization program, for one, she said, implementing the immunization program during election year could be taken as hidden agenda.

But this was not the only time that people’s health was used for a political agenda.

Members of the Coalition for People’s Right to Health (CPRH) protesting in front of the Department of Health. (Contributed photo)

Remember 2004 presidential election?

When Health Secretary Francisco Duque was appointed as the new DOH Secretary, replacing Ubial who was rejected by the Commission on Appointment, the HEAD was among those who opposed Duque’s appointment.

In a statement, community doctor and HEAD secretary general Joseph Carabeo said Duque should answer all allegations against him, which includes the distribution of PhilHealth cards also in time for the 2004 presidential election.

During this time, Arroyo who replaced deposed President Joseph Estrada in 2001 was running for another term as president. Among her opponent was the famous actor, the late Fernando Poe, Jr.

There are allegations of fraud and misuse of public funds after Arroyo won the 2004 election that prompted a number of plunder cases filed in courts against the former president after her term ended in June 2010. One is the transfer of funds from the Overseas Workers Welfare and Administration (Owwa) to the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).

At least P530 million ($10 million) Owwa Medicare Fund was transferred to PhilHealth. According to a report by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) Duque, who was then the president of PhilHealth, proposed the transfer of funds to Arroyo as early as Nov. 2002. In this memorandum, Duque reportedly said, “the proposed transfer will have a significant bearing on the 2004 elections.”

On Feb. 14, 2003, Arroyo signed Executive Order No. 182 Transferring the Medicare Funds and the Medical Functions of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration to the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation. On Jan. 29, 2004, Executive Order No. 276 was signed by Arroyo directing PhilHealth to assist the application and enrollment of the targeted five million heads of indigent families nationwide.

A report by Newsbreak in 2004 also said that Duque, “wanted beneficiaries to receive their membership cards within two months, specifically setting the deadline for April 6, a day after Arroyo’s 57th birthday.” Duque was reportedly a close ally of Arroyo and long time family friend and neighbor in La Vista, a posh village in Quezon City.

The expansion of beneficiaries was also not studied. The report said, “Documents from PhilHealth and the budget department suggest that the expansion of the program was undertaken without its feasibility being studied.” Funds for the implementation of the program were also put into question as it was not enough to cover all the targeted beneficiaries.

The PhilHealth cards that were distributed for free by Arroyo during the campaign period had her picture in it cradling a child. It is however, only valid for a year.

The PCIJ report also said that former Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman confessed to the Citizens’ Congress for Truth and Accountability (CCTA) that the government made the distribution of the PhilHealth cards to areas where support for Arroyo was weak. She said during the conduct of the CCTA in 2005 that she went to Pangasinan, Poe’s home province to distribute PhilHealth cards. Soliman was the secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development before she resigned from the post in 2005.

This was eventually denied by Duque and Arroyo. Meanwhile, after ‘winning the 2004 presidential election, Arroyo appointed Duque as Secretary of the Department of Health.

‘Motivated by political ambition

Robert Mendoza, Alliance of Health Workers chairperson said all of these were motivated by political ambitions.

(Contributed photo)

“Before, Duque, as PhilHealth president did it for Arroyo. It also goes the same with Aquino to get votes for Liberal Party candidates,” he told Bulatlat.

Political patronage is rampant especially during election season to get votes or political favors, Mendoza added. The committee hearings in the House of Representatives and the Senate have shown how politics got in the way of the implementation of the Dengvaxia mass vaccination. For one, Mendoza said, Ubial had admitted how she, during her stint as Health Secretary, was pressured in the budget hearings to buy more Dengvaxia vaccine for its implementation for 2018.

Medical experts also decried the hasty implementation of the mass vaccination and how officials of the Aquino administration disregarded recommendations.

A report by Reuters also said that experts’ advice was disregarded by then Health Secretary Janette Garin. The Formulary Executive Council (FEC) – a panel of top Filipino experts that identifies which medicines and drugs the government may use and procure – expressed caution over the introduction of Dengvaxia in the country. After approving the purchase of the vaccine from Sanofi to introduce Dengvaxia, it recommended that the vaccine be used “through small-scale pilot tests and phased implementation rather than across three regions in the country at the same time.”

The FEC also recommended that the vaccine should be used “only after a detailed ‘baseline’ study of the prevalence and strains of dengue in the targeted area” and should be “be bought in small batches so the price could be negotiated down.”

Accountability

Before 2017 ended, Gabriela Women’s Party, Gabriela National Alliance and 70 mothers representing their children has filed charges against Aquino, Garin, former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and former executive secretary Paquito Ochoa as well as key executives of Sanofi on Dec. 22.
In a statement, the complainants said Aquino “cannot feign ignorance and claim that he ordered the purchase of the vaccines to save the children from the dreaded disease.”

“The fact remains that whether he (Aquino) acted in conspiracy with Sanofi officials or miserably failed to exercise sound judgment or discretion, the lives of more than 800,000 children are now at risk because of his acts and billions of pesos from the government coffers have been disbursed illegally under his incumbency,” the complaint read.

The complainants filed a case of violations of Republic Act 3019 or Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and procurement laws when the government proceeded with the immunization program via anomalous procedures.

The Section 3 (e) of the law states that public officials are prohibited from “Causing any undue injury to any party, including the Government, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence.”

Members of Gabriela Women’s Party and Gabriela National Alliance filed charges against former President Benigno Aquino and other officials and key executives of Sanofi before the Office of the Ombudsman on Dec. 22, 2017. (Contributed photo)

Section 3 (g) meanwhile, prohibits public officials from “Entering, on behalf of the Government, into any contract or transaction manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the same, whether or not the public officer profited or will profit thereby.”

They also noted that the Department of Budget and Management had issued the Special Allotment Release Order for the procurement of Dengvaxia vaccines on Dec. 29, 2015 even before the FEC’s recommendations on Feb. 1, 2016.

“At the very least, the public respondents are guilty of gross inexcusable negligence when they inexcusably failed to duly review and assess the efficacy of the vaccine and to do what was obviously expected of them as public officials,” the complaint read.

They also filed a writ of continuing mandamus to the Supreme Court to address the dangers posed by the Dengvaxia vaccine.

“Instead of seeking monetary award for damages, given the possible long-term effects of the vaccine, petitioner-children and their mothers pray for the rendition of free and long-term medical services and treatment from the government,” the petition read.

The petitioners argue that the Dengvaxia issue is “of transcendental importance.” They added that the high court should compel key government agencies to “provide free medical services and treatment for those who may suffer from severe dengue or any of the determined side effects of the Dengvaxia vaccine.”

GWP Rep. Arlene Brosas said the present administration is duty-bound to ensure the right to health and right to life of all those affected by the Dengvaxia vaccine. “This is the very least that it can do to allay the fears of children and their mothers.” ()

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